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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 November, 2004, 08:43 GMT
Reaping profits from hard ground
Orla Ryan
BBC News in Nampula

Incomes rising: Antonio Guillerme next to his plot of land

A few cents more a kilo doesn't sound very much, but to farmers in rural Mozambique it can be life changing.

Since joining a farmers' association in 1996, Antonio Guillerme has made enough money to buy a radio, a bicycle, clothes for his wife and to send his children to school.

While his house does not have a steel roof, it is better than the one he had before.

Farmers in rural Africa frequently complain of being ripped off by middlemen, and their small plots, a few acres each, mean it is difficult to have a voice with buyers who want both volume and quality. But Mr Guillerme is one of thousands of farmers in northern Mozambique to have benefited from an aid project called Clusa which put them in associations, increasing their bargaining power and linking them with buyers.

United in strength

Clusa began work in 1995 in Nampula, one of the country's poorest provinces, where there are few formal job opportunities. There are now some 800 associations, with 25 to 30 farmers each, and anecdotal evidence and surveys suggest that association members have seen their incomes rise.

Gilberto da Silva Miranda
Even without guarantees, they managed to pay much better than people with ties and shoes
Gilberto da Silva Miranda, regional director Gapi

Billions of dollars are spent on aid projects every year, most of it Western taxpayers' money, and critics argue that there is often little to show for it. If Clusa is a success, how has it done it?

Its donors include USAID, Oxfam, the European Union, the Japanese government, the Mozambican government and the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation.

It has attracted close to $7m (3.7m) since 2001, the bulk of which was from USAID, a reminder of the fact that aid does not come cheap and that one high-profile donor can lead to the cooperation of another.

Crucially, Clusa started to plan a handover almost as soon as it began.

Sustainable

In a small office behind the Clusa building is Ikuru, an organisation partly-owned by the farmers.

In time, this farmer-run organisation will carry out much of Clusa's work, Ikuru's manager Clusa Raposo says.

If this transition does work, then it will signal the project's success, as it will have continued after the original backers have ended their involvement.

One of the biggest challenges facing the aid industry is to create sustainable projects which can thrive without outsider financial support.

Trainers came from within the community and set up demonstration plots to show farmers how it was done.

Effort was made to ensure all farmers got involved in the association, to the extent of teaching members to read and write.

High levels of illiteracy meant control of the association's finances and administration could have been concentrated in the hands of a few, Alvara da Graca da Fonseca Veloso, the deputy director of the project, said.

The farmers signed the contract, saw the produce weighed and got the agreed money. The end result was that - in stark contrast to unsuccessful aid projects elsewhere - the farmers controlled the associations, Mr Raposo says.

Cutting out the middleman

And the buyers are happy too.

Antonio Filipe Miranda buys about 10% of the cashew nuts he needs for his processing factory from these farmers' associations.

"It is no good to negotiate with someone who is weak and has poor quality, the intention is to negotiate with someone who has quality, volume and who can understand business," he says.

Farmers at the Meterica centre, where they are taught to read and write
Farmers at the Meterica centre, where they are taught to read and write
The farmers' associations borrow money from microfinance institutions and much of this flows through Gapi, a development finance institution.

Gapi's regional director Gilberto da Silva Miranda says that about 98% of the money has been paid back. Under this system of solidarity credit, if one farmer cannot meet his share, then the others have to cough up.

"Even without guarantees, they managed to pay much better than people with ties and shoes," he says.

Future growth?

There is still plenty of work to be done.

The farmers want to make more money and buyer Mr Miranda wants to be able to buy in bulk.

Most small holdings are scattered, with farmers owning half an acre here and half an acre there - a difficult environment in which to increase output.

Gapi says it is risky to lend money to farmers to increase production, preferring to lend money to hire a truck to deliver their produce or employ workers instead.

Taking Nampula's farmers to the next step will not be easy, but a foundation has been put in place.

What happens next will testify to the strength of that foundation.




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